18 Days of Paranoia #16: Lost Girls (dir by Liz Garbus)


Lost Girls tells the true and infuriating story of Mari Gilbert and her search for her oldest daughter, Shannan.

Mari Gilbert is a single mother who is works as a waitress and struggles to give her children the best life that she can.  She’s still haunted by a decision that she made years ago to temporarily put her three daughters into foster care.  Though she eventually reclaimed two of her daughters, her eldest — Shannan — has basically been on her own since she was sixteen.  Shannan, who is now 24, visits her mother and her sisters on a semi-regular basis.  Despite the fact that Shannan claims that she’s just a waitress (like her mother), Shannan always seems to have a lot of money on her.  Mari has her suspicions about what Shannan’s doing to make that money but she keeps them to herself.

Then, one day in May, Shannan disappears.  Mari can’t get the police to take her seriously when she says her oldest daughter has vanished.  They say that Shannan left on her own and will probably return at some point.  They dismiss Mari’s concerns, telling her that her daughter was a prostitute and therefore, by their logic, unreliable.  Even when Mari gets strange phone calls from a doctor who lives in a gated community in Long Island, the police refuse to take her seriously.

However, Mari then discovers that Shannan called 911 the night that she disappeared.  Despite the fact that Shannan sounded panicked, the police waited an hour before responding to her call and, by the time they arrived, Shannan had disappeared.  It’s only when Mari goes to the media that the police actually start to search the area of Long Island where Shannan disappeared.  The police discover the bodies of several sex workers, all murdered by the same unknown killer.

However, they still don’t find Shannan’s body.  Though Mari and her daughter, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie), are convinced that Shannan is one of the killer’s victims, the police continue to insist that Shannan probably just ran off on her own.  In fact, the local police commissioner (Gabriel Byrne) finds himself being pressured to do something about Mari because her now constant presence on TV is making the entire community look bad.

Meanwhile, Mari finds herself caught up in a personal feud between two men who live in the gated community, an amateur investigator (Kevin Corrigan) and a shady doctor (Reed Birney) who has a history of making inappropriate phone calls….

Lost Girls is an interesting but frustrating film.  Some of that is because the story on which the film is based did not have a happy ending.  The Long Island serial killer has never been identified or captured.  The most obvious suspect was never charged with anything and subsequently moved down to Florida.  Mari never got justice for Shannan and, sadly, was eventually murdered by her youngest daughter.  (The murder is acknowledged via a title card but it is not actually depicted in the film.)  As a result, the film itself doesn’t really offer up any of the payoff that you would normally expect to get after devoting 90 minutes of your life to it.  It’s frustrating but, at the same time, its understandable.

Amy Ryan gives a great performance as Mari.  That shouldn’t shock anyone.  She makes you feel Mari’s pain, fury, and guilt.  To its credit, the film does shy away from the fact that Mari often looked the other way when it came to how exactly Shannan was making the money that she regularly sent back to her family and Amy Ryan perfectly captures Mari’s struggle to not only get justice for her daughter but also to forgive herself.  Unfortunately, the film is a bit less convincing when it deals with the police and the suspects.  The film, for instance, can’t seem to decide whether or not Gabriel Byrne’s character is indifferent, incompetent, or just overwhelmed by a bad situation.  By that same token, the doctor and his neighbor both seem oddly underwritten and underplayed.  Obviously, the film can’t just come out and accuse a real, living person of murder (especially when that person hasn’t been charged with anything) but it still makes for a frustrating viewing experience.

Where Lost Girls succeeds is at creating a properly ominous atmosphere.  Every scene seems to be filled with dread and, from the minute that Mari starts her investigation, you feel nervous for her.  She’s taking a true journey into the heart of darkness.  The film leaves you angry that the police refused to search for Shannan.  Sex workers are regularly preyed upon and, because of what they do for a living, society often looks the other way.  That’s how you end up with killers like The Green River Killer and the Long Island serial killer.  They don’t get away with their crimes because they’re clever.  They get away with it because, far too often, society refuses to care about their victims.  Lost Girls is an imperfect film but its heart is in the right place and its message is an important one.

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller
  13. They Call Me Mister Tibbs
  14. The Organization
  15. Marie: A True Story

Lisa’s Way, Way, Way, Way, Way, Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for January


It’s a new year and that means that it’s once again time for me to do something spectacularly stupid.

Below, you’ll find a list of Oscar predictions.  However, this is not a list of what I think will be nominated on January 13th.  No, instead, these are my predictions for the upcoming year.  This the first installment of my monthly predictions for which 2020 films will be nominated next year at this time.

Just in case it’s not already obvious how foolish this is, consider the following: Last year, at this time, no one had heard of Parasite.  Maybe a handful of people knew that Noah Baumbach’s next film was going to be called Marriage Story.  There were vague rumors about 1917 and there were still serious doubts as to whether Scorsese would ever finish putting together The Irishman.  In short, trying to predict the Oscars 12 months out is impossible.

Needless to say, I haven’t seen a single one of these films listed below so I can’t tell you one way or the other whether or not they’re going to set the world on fire.  Instead, what is listed below is a combination of random guesses and my own gut feelings.  You’ll notice that there are a lot of big names listed, Spielberg, Anthony Hopkins, Ron Howard, and Glenn Close.  Yes, all of them could very well be Oscar contenders.  At the same time, they’re all also a known quantity.  They’ve all got a good track record with the Academy and, as of right now, that’s all that I have to go on.

You may also notice that I’ve listed several films that will, in just a few weeks, be playing at the Sundance Film Festival.  Again, it’s not that I know anything about these films that the rest of the world doesn’t.  Instead, it’s simply a case of I looked at the list of Sundance films, I read the plots, and a few times I said, “That sounds like it could potentially be a contender.”  After all, it seems like at least one nominee comes out of Sundance every year.  Why shouldn’t it happen again?

My point is that you shouldn’t take these predictions too seriously.  Some of the films and performers below may be nominated.  Some definitely will not be.  But, next year, we will at least be able to look back at this list and have a laugh!

So, without further ado, here are my Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

Dune

Hillbilly Elegy

The Many Saints of Newark

Minari

News of the World

Respect

Tenet

The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Trial of the Chicago 7

West Side Story

Best Director

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Christopher Nolan for Tenet

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper in Bernstein

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Lance Henriksen in Falling

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Michael Keaton in Worth

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Glenn Close in Four Good Days

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Elisabeth Moss in Shirley

Amy Ryan in Lost Girls

Best Supporting Actor

Willem DaFoe in The Last Thing He Wanted

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Mark Rylance in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Steven Yeun in Minari

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Vera Farmiga in The Many Saints of Newark

Tilda Swinton in The Personal Life of David Copperfield

Marisa Tomei in The King of Staten Island

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Catching Up With The Films of 2019: Late Night (dir by Nisha Ganatra)


Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) has just gotten a new job.  A struggling comedienne who, up until now, has been forced to test out her best material on her coworkers at a chemical plant, Molly is hired to join the writing staff of late night talk show host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson).  Even though Molly knows that she was largely hired so that the show could claim to have a diverse writing staff (all of the other writers are white males), she is still thrilled to be working for Katherine.  Why wouldn’t she be?  Katherine is a notoriously difficult boss who can’t even be bothered to learn the names of most of the people working for her but Katherine is also a legend, one of the first women to ever host her own late night talk show.

Of course, all legends have to come to an end and Katherine’s career as a late night talk show host appears to be in its final days.  Katherine’s rating have been in a steep decline for several years and her nonthreatening monologues and habit of booking guests like Doris Kearns Goodwin are not doing much to reverse the trend.  Safely hidden away in her mansion and continually worried about the health of her Parkinson’s-stricken husband, Walter (John Lithgrow), Katherine has grown out of touch.  Making matters even worse, the president of the network (played by Mindy Kaling’s Office co-star, Amy Ryan) hates Katherine and is eager to replace her with an obnoxious, Dane Cook-style comedian named Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz).

Molly’s new job is a struggle at first.  The other writers dismiss Molly as merely being a “diversity hire” while Katherine often seems to be put off by Molly’s cheerful earnestness.  Over time, Molly proves herself and soon, she’s inspiring Katherine to refuse to leave her show without a fight.  Gone are bland monologues and boring presidential historians, replaced by politically charged humor and YouTube stars.

Late Night, as you may remember, was a huge hit at Sundance back in January.  Amazon Studios paid 13 million for the distribution rights.  The film was released in June to generally positive reviews and …. well, it made very little money.  Despite an extensive advertising campaign and a deluge of think pieces that literally begged audiences to see the film, Late Night flopped at the box office and it is estimated that, taking into account the film’s ad campaign, Amazon lost about 40 million dollars on the film.

Why wasn’t Late Night a bigger success at the box office?  At the time, the popular answer was misogyny.  While one should never discount that, I think that the film’s failure had more to do with the fact that the ad campaign made Late Night look more like the latest Netflix series than an actual cinematic experience.  Like a lot of movies about TV, Late Night was a film that seemed like it could wait for television.  I mean, I am the film’s target audience and even I waited to watch the film on Prime.

As for the film itself, it’s flawed but likable.  Along with co-starring in the film, Mindy Kaling wrote the script and the dialogue is consistently witty, even if the plot occasionally struggles to keep up.  At its best, this is a fun movie to listen to.  Visually, the film’s a bit flat and there’s a big third act development that feels a bit forced but, for the most part, the film works.  Not surprisingly, Emma Thompson is perfectly cast as Katherine and she delivers her razor sharp lines with the right mix of scorn and pathos.  Mindy Kaling effortlessly holds her own opposite Thompson and even John Lithgow, who can usually be counted upon to chew every piece of scenery available to him, is effective in his small but important role.  In the end, it’s kind of a sweet film and there’s something touchingly naive about the film’s steadfast belief that a late night talk show can actually be worth all the trouble.

Late Night is available on Prime so check it out.

 

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Beautiful Boy, Mile 22, Juliet Naked, The Equalizer 2, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, King of Thieves, Assassination Nation, Mandy


Lisa already wrote about the new trailers for The Predator and Zoe.  Here are some of the other trailers that were released last week.

First up, there’s Beautiful Boy.  Based on the memoirs of both David Sheff and his son, Nic, this movie is based on the true story of David’s struggle to understand and deal with his son’s drug addiction.  It stars Oscar nominees Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, and Amy Ryan.  It will be released on October 12th by Amazon Studios, who are hoping that they’ll have the same success with this film that they had with Manchester By The Sea.

And now, to quote the poet Python, for something completely different.  Mile 22 is the latest action film from star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.  Mile 22 is due to be released on August 17th.

Also due to be released on August 17th is Juliet, Naked.  This Nick Hornby adaptation is about a rock star (Ethan Hawke) and the couple (Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd) who are obsessed with his music.  We can expect this one to inspire many comparisons to High Fidelity.

On July 20th, Denzel Washington returns as retired CIA assassin Robert McCall in The Equalizer 2.  In the sequel, he’s investigating the death of a friend from the first film.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is the latest fantasy film to be based on a children’s book.  It looks like a change of pace for director Eli Roth, if not star Jack Black, and is set to be released on September 21st.

Also based on a young adult novel is The Hate U Give.  Amanda Stenberg plays Starr, a young African-American woman who finds herself at the center of protest and controversy after she witnesses the fatal police shooting of her best friend.  The Hate U Give will be released on October 19th.

King of Thieves is the latest film from The Theory of Everything‘s director, James Marsh.  Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, and Ray Winstone are over-the-hill thieves.  (Didn’t Caine already do this in Going In Style?)  This British film does not yet have an American release date.

In Assassination Nation, the citizens of suburbia become outraged and violent when a data hack leads to all of their darkest secrets being exposed.  (This would never have happened if they had just taken part in the Annual Purge like they were supposed to.)  Assassination Nation will be released on September 21st.

Finally, in Mandy, Nicolas Cage plays a man who seeks revenge on the cultists and demons that killed the woman he loved.  Mandy will be released on September 14th.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Capote (dir by Bennett Miller)


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The first time I ever saw the 2005’s Capote, I thought it was a great film.

I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.  I love movies about writers and I love biopics and, as the title indicates, Capote was both.  I’m also fascinated by true crime and Capote told the story of how Truman Capote came to write the first true crime book, In Cold Blood.  Add to that, I was (and am) a Philip Seymour Hoffman fan and Capote provided Hoffman with not only a rare starring role but it also won him an overdue Academy Award.  Finally, to top it all off, Capote also dealt with Truman’s friendship with Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), the author of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Seriously, a film that dealt with the writing of both In Cold Blood and To Kill A Mockingbird!?  How couldn’t I love that?  While everyone else was outraged that Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, I was upset that it beat Capote.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to rewatching Capote for this review.  But when I actually did sit down and watched it, I was shocked to discover that Capote wasn’t actually the masterpiece that I remembered it being.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  It’s still a good film.  At times, it’s even a great film.  I still think it would have been a more worthy Best Picture winner than Crash.  But still, there seemed to be something missing.  Much as with director Bennett Miller’s most recent film, Foxcatcher, there’s a coldness at the heart of Capote.  One can’t deny its success on a technical level but, at the same time, it keeps the audience at a distance.  In the end, we remains detached observers, admiring the skill of the film without ever getting emotionally invested in it.

Interestingly, the film suggests that the exact opposite happened to Truman Capote while he wrote In Cold Blood.  The film suggests that Capote got so invested in one of the killers at the center of In Cold Blood that the process of writing the book nearly destroyed him.  When we first see Capote, he’s at some social event in New York and he’s amusing his rich friends with charmingly risqué anecdotes about his other rich and famous friends.  As played by Hoffman, Capote is someone who is almost always performing.  It only with his friend Harper Lee and his partner Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) that he ever lets down his guard long enough to reveal who he actually is, a gay man from the deep South who was fortunate enough to escape.

That’s one reason why Capote grows close to Perry Smith (Clifton Collin, Jr.).  The subjects of In Cold Blood, Smith and Dick Hickcock (Mark Pellegrino) killed the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas.  Capote, who followed the case from their arrest to their eventual execution, becomes obsessed with Smith precisely because he sees Smith, with his dysfunctional background and his overly sensitive nature, as being who Capote could have been if things had gone just a little bit differently in his life.  Miller further makes this point by skillfully juxtaposing scenes of Truman dropping names and telling jokes at New York parties with the grim reality of life and death in Kansas.

Truman finds himself serving as a mentor to Perry.  (Hickcock is neglected by both Capote and the film.)  Of course, Truman’s also a writer and he knows that he needs an ending for his story.  As his editor (played by Bob Balaban, who seems to be destined to play everyone’s editor at some point or another) points out, Smith and Hickcock have to be executed if the book is ever to be completed.  Truman also has to get Perry to finally talk about what happened in the Clutter family farm.  As much as Capote seems to care about Perry, he’s ruthless when it comes to getting material for his book.  The film suggests that Truman Capote got his greatest success at the cost of his soul.

It’s a rather dark movie, which might explain why I was initially so impressed with it.  (I went through a period of time where I thought any movie with a sad ending was a masterpiece.)  Rewatching it, I saw that the film’s triumph was mostly one of casting.  Miller gets some seriously brilliant performances from the cast of Capote.  Yes, Hoffman is great in Capote but so is the entire cast.  Keener and Greenwood are well-cast as the only two people who have the guts to call Truman on his bullshit.  Chris Cooper gives a very Chris Cooperish performance as Alvin Dewey, the no-nonsense lawman who views Capote with a mix of amusement and distrust.  Clifton Collins, Jr. and Mark Pellegrino are both excellent as Smith and Hickcock.  In fact, Pellegrino makes such an impression that you regret the both Capote and the film didn’t spend more time with his character.

As previously stated, Hoffman won Best Actor but Capote lost best picture to Crash.  How Crash beat not just Brokeback Mountain but Capote as well is a mystery that Oscar historians are still trying to unravel.

Film Review: Bridge of Spies (dir by Steven Spielberg)


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I saw Bridge of Spies last weekend and I’m a little bit surprised that I haven’t gotten around to writing a review until now.  After all, this is not only the latest film from Steven Spielberg but it also stars the universally beloved Tom Hanks and it’s currently being touted as a possible best picture nominee.  (Mark Rylance, who plays an imprisoned spy in this film, is also emerging as a front runner for best supporting actor.)  The screenplay was written by the Coen Brothers.  (Oddly enough, films scripted by the Coens — like Unbroken, for instance — tend to be far more conventional and far less snarky than films actually directed by the Coens.)  Even beyond its impressive pedigree, Bridge of Spies is a historical drama and by now, everyone should know how much I love historical dramas.

And the thing is, I enjoyed Bridge of Spies.  I thought it was a well-made film.  I thought that Tom Hanks was well-cast as an idealistic lawyer who stands up for truth, justice, and the Constitution.  I agreed with the pundits who thought Mark Rylance was award-worthy.  It’s become a bit of a cliché for Amy Ryan to show up as an understanding wife but it’s a role she plays well and she made the most of her scenes with Tom Hanks.  Steven Spielberg knows how to put a good film together.  This really should have been a film about which I rushed home to rave.

And yet, at the same time, I just could not work up that much enthusiasm for Bridge of Spies.  It’s a good film but there’s nothing unexpected about it.  There’s nothing surprising about the film.  Steven Spielberg is one of the most commercially successful directors in history and the American film establishment pretty much orbits around him.  He’s good at what he does and he deserves his success.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a subversive bone in his body.  Bridge of Spies is a lot like his previous Oscar contender, Lincoln.  It’s very well-made.  It’s the epitome of competence.  But there’s not a truly surprising or unexpected moment to be found in the film.

And I have to admit that, even as I enjoyed Bridge of Spies, I still found myself frustrated by just how risk-adverse a film it truly was.  After all, we’re living in the age of Ex Machina, Upstream Color, and Sicario.  Bridge of Spies is a good movie and, in many ways, it provides a very valuable history lesson.  (The film’s best moments were the one that contrasted the U.S. with the cold desolation of communist-controlled East Germany.)  But, overall, it just didn’t make a huge impression on me.  It was just a a little bit too safe in its approach.

The Cold War Relived Through Bridge of Spies


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Lisa Marie is not the only history nerd in this here place. I don’t think it was a coincidence that TSL’s co-founders ended up being both history nerds. We both love films the depict historical events. Some of them turn out to be great while some end up on the trash heap.

One filmmaker who has made a career late in his life of making historical films is Steven Spielberg. The same one who gave us great blockbusters in the scifi, thriller and fantasy genres has also given us some excellent historical films such as Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Munich and Lincoln.

We have the first trailer for Spielberg’s latest film which is based on the real-life events surrounding the 1960 U-2 spy plane incident where American pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down while on a mission over the Soviet Union and was subsequently swapped back into US custody for a Soviet spy that the Americans were holding.

Bridge of Spies showcases the events which led to that swap and how contentious the negotiations had been before it finally came about. Everyone knows the Cuban Missile Crisis put the world very close to nuclear annihilation, but what many don’t know is how the Gary Powers Incident also pushed the two nuclear powers very close to the brink.

Bridge of Spies is set for an OCt. 16, 2015 release date…just in time for the start of Lisa Marie’s favorite film season: Awards Season.